Diana Vreeland: Mother Of All Those Devils Who Wear Prada

Venice is dedicating a retrospective to one of the defining icons and arbiters of 20th-century fashion (and culture), Diana Vreeland. The influential and ever demanding editor of Harper's Bazaar and Vogue helped label clothing and luxury design a

Vreeland (rt) with a model before a photo shoot for Harper's Bazaar magazine (Richard Avedon/Palazzo Fortuny)
Vreeland (rt) with a model before a photo shoot for Harper's Bazaar magazine (Richard Avedon/Palazzo Fortuny)
Egle Santolini

VENICE - Oh how she would have loved this exhibition in Venice, with its baroque and Oriental flavors, its aristocratic old European essence. For Diana Vreeland, happiness was sipping an espresso in St. Mark's Square with Andy Warhol. When asked her opinion on jeans, she answered that it was the best-designed object in the world, save the gondola.

Until June 25, Palazzo Fortuny celebrates the woman who was the deus ex machina of fashion from the 1930s to 1980s, as a columnist and fashion editor of Harper's Bazaar, as editor-in-chief of Vogue America, and as consultant to the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The most phantasmagoric clothes that were her sources of inspiration are on display -- for the first time in Italy -- in the exhibition "Diana Vreeland After Diana Vreeland." There are clothes by Yves Saint-Laurent, such as the Mondrian dress, or those inspired by the Ballets Russes, all a part of modern women's collective imagination.

There are the most maximalist works by Balenciaga, including a divine creation of green feathers that was owned by the American fashion icon Mona Bismarck. There are the 19th-century clothes by Worth and 18th century works lent by the Museo Mocenigo, the Venetian museum of fabrics and costumes.

Of course, some of the most amazing Schiaparelli and Chanel designs are featured, but so too is the cloak owned by the opera singer Maria Callas, who was Vreeland's idol. There are Austrian imperial uniforms, and her own working outfits, two sober beige knit dresses by Givenchy.

"Bring me billiard green!"

The two professors who curated the exhibition, Maria Luisa Frisa of Venice's Iuav di Venezia and Judith Clark of the London School of Fashion, say that the main goal is "to think about the role of the fashion curator and his or her way to bring clothes into museums, between the slow pattern of history and the dizzying patterns of the latest trend."

Harold Koda of the Met, Akiko Fukai of the Kyoto Costume Institute and other experts spoke about this topic on a recent international panel. But the story largely begins with Vreeland, a fascinating animal who was famously unattractive and incomparably alluring at the same time, with her scarlet nails and massive bracelets by Kenneth Jay Lane.

She was the mother of all the future devils who wear Prada, a cosmopolitan woman who felt at home in Paris, London and New York, a descendant of George Washington and banker's wife.

There are many anecdotes about her life. Once she demanded a piece of fabric like the green of a billiards table, and refused all the options, like Alice in Wonderland's mean Queen of Hearts. In the end, they cut up a real billiard table and brought her its fabric. But she rejected that too, saying she'd asked for "the idea of billiard-table green." Another time, she ordered interior designer Billy Baldwin to create for her Park Avenue's apartment a Hell's garden, all red.

She was the first who brought in unconventional models from high society, like Benedetta Barzini, Edie Sedgwick, Françoise Hardy, Mia Farrow, and Catherine Spaak. She loved women with big noses. Barbra Streisand may just owe her career to Vreeland.

She wrote about her creative quirks in a column for Harper's Bazaar titled «Why don't you?» Why don't you dress your daughter as a princess at a masked ball? Why don't you use a giant shell instead of a bucket to keep your Champagne chilled? Why don't you wear purple woolen gloves? Why don't you tie black ribbons to your wrists? She died at 86, in 1989. Today, countless fashion magazines continue to turn to her ideas – and the best ones know how to apply her method.

Read the original article in Italian

Photo - Richard Avedon/Palazzo Fortuny

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How China Flipped From Tech Copycat To Tech Leader

Long perceived as a country chasing Western tech, China's business and technological innovations are now influencing the rest of the world. Still lagging on some fronts, the future is now up for grabs.

At the World Semiconductor Conference in Nanjing, China, on June 9

Emmanuel Grasland

BEIJING — China's tech tycoons have fallen out of favor: Jack Ma (Alibaba), Colin Huang (Pinduoduo), Richard Liu (Tencent) and Zhang Yiming (ByteDance) have all been pressured by Beijing to leave their jobs or step back from a public role. Their time may be coming to an end, but the legacy remains exceptional. Under their reign, China has become a veritable window to the global future of technology.

TikTok is the perfect example. Launched in 2016, the video messaging app has been downloaded over two billion times worldwide. It has passed the 100-million active user mark in the United States. Thanks to TikTok's success, ByteDance, its parent company, has reached an exceptional level of influence on the internet.

For a long time, the West viewed China's digital ecosystem as a cheap imitation of Silicon Valley. The European and American media described the giants of the Asian superpower as the "Chinese Google" or "Chinese Amazon." But the tables have turned.

No Western equivalent to WeChat

The Asian superpower has forged cutting-edge business models that do not exist elsewhere. It is impossible to find a Western equivalent to the WeChat super-app (1.2 billion users), which is used for shopping as much as for making a medical appointment or obtaining credit.

The flow of innovation is now changing direction.

The roles have actually reversed: In a recent article, Les Echos describes the California-based social network IRL, as a "WeChat of the Western world."

Grégory Boutté, digital and customer relations director at the multinational luxury group Kering, explains, "The Chinese digital ecosystem is incredibly different, and its speed of evolution is impressive. Above all, the flow of innovation is now changing direction."

This is illustrated by the recent creation of "live shopping" events in France, which are hosted by celebrities and taken from a concept already popular in China.

10,000 new startups per day

There is an explosion of this phenomenon in the digital sphere. Rachel Daydou, Partner & China General Manager of the consulting firm Fabernovel in Shanghai, says, "With Libra, Facebook is trying to create a financial entity based on social media, just as WeChat did with WeChat Pay. Facebook Shop looks suspiciously like WeChat's mini-programs. Amazon Live is inspired by Taobao Live and YouTube Shopping by Douyin, the Chinese equivalent of TikTok."

In China, it is possible to go to fully robotized restaurants or to give a panhandler some change via mobile payment. Your wallet is destined to be obsolete because your phone can read restaurant menus and pay for your meal via a QR Code.

The country uses shared mobile chargers the way Europeans use bicycles, and is already testing electric car battery swap stations to avoid 30 minutes of recharging time.

Michael David, chief omnichannel director at LVMH, says, "The Chinese ecosystem is permanently bubbling with innovation. About 10,000 start-ups are created every day in the country."

China is also the most advanced country in the electric car market. With 370 models at the end of 2020, it had an offering that was almost twice as large as Europe's, according to the International Energy Agency.

Photo of a phone's screen displaying the logo of \u200bChina's super-app WeChat

China's super-app WeChat

Omar Marques/SOPA Images/ZUMA

The whole market runs on tech

Luca de Meo, CEO of French automaker Renault, said in June that China is "ahead of Europe in many areas, whether it's electric cars, connectivity or autonomous driving. You have to be there to know what's going on."

As a market, China is also a source of technological inspiration for Western companies, a world leader in e-commerce, solar, mobile payments, digital currency and facial recognition. It has the largest 5G network, with more than one million antennas up and running, compared to 400,000 in Europe.

Self-driving cars offer an interesting point of divergence between China and the West.

Just take the number of connected devices (1.1 billion), the time spent on mobile (six hours per day) and, above all, the magnitude of data collected to deploy and improve artificial intelligence algorithms faster than in Europe or the United States.

The groundbreaking field of self-driving cars offers an interesting point of divergence between China and the West. Artificial intelligence guru Kai-Fu Lee explains that China believes that we should teach the highway to speak to the car, imagining new services and rethinking cities to avoid cars crossing pedestrians, while the West does not intend to go that far.

Still lagging in some key sectors

There are areas where China is still struggling, such as semiconductors. Despite a production increase of nearly 50% per year, the country produces less than 40% of the chips it consumes, according to official data. This dependence threatens its ambitions in artificial intelligence, telecoms and autonomous vehicles. Chinese manufacturers work with an engraving fineness of 28 nm or more, far from those of Intel, Samsung or TSMC. They are unable to produce processors for high-performance PCs.

China's aerospace industry is also lagging behind the West. There are also no Chinese players among the top 20 life science companies on the stock market and there are doubts surrounding the efficacy of Sinovac and Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccines. As of 2019, the country files more patents per year than the U.S., but far fewer are converted into marketable products.

Beijing knows its weaknesses and is working to eliminate them. Adopted in March, the nation's 14th five-year plan calls for a 7% annual increase in R&D spending between now and 2025, compared with 12% under the previous plan. Big data aside, that is basic math anyone can understand.
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